Beneficial effects of communicating intentions when delivering moral criticism: Cognitive and neural responses

Inga K. Rösler*, Félice van Nunspeet, Naomi Ellemers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


People often do not accept criticism on their morality, especially when delivered by outgroup members. In two preregistered studies, we investigated whether people become more receptive to such negative feedback when feedback senders communicate their intention to help. Participants received negative feedback from ostensible others on their selfish (rather than altruistic) decisions in a donation task. We manipulated the identity of a feedback sender (ingroup vs. outgroup) and the intention that they provided for giving feedback. A sender either did not communicate any intentions, indicated the intention to help the feedback receiver improve, or communicated the intention to show moral superiority. We measured participants’ self-reported responses to the feedback (Study 1, N = 44) and additionally recorded an EEG in Study 2 (N = 34). Results showed that when no intentions were communicated, participants assumed worse intentions from outgroup senders than ingroup senders (Study 1). However, group membership had no significant effect once feedback senders made their intentions explicit. Moreover, across studies, when feedback senders communicated their intention to help, participants perceived feedback as less unfair compared with when senders tried to convey their moral superiority. Complementing these results, exploratory event-related potential results of Study 2 suggested that communicating the intention to help reduced participants’ attentional vigilance toward negative feedback messages on their morality (i.e., decreased P200 amplitudes). These results demonstrate the beneficial effects of communicating the intention to help when one tries to encourage others’ moral growth through criticism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-439
Number of pages19
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number3
Early online date14 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Event-related potential
  • Feedback
  • Intentions
  • Intergroup
  • Morality


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